|The façade of Poonch House on Adamjee Road, Rawalpindi. Once this mansion was a rest house for Kashmir’s Maharaja; today it presents a picture of neglect. — Photos by Tanveer Shahzad|
By Aamir Yasin
The 150-year-old Poonch House standing in the heart of Saddar on Adam Jee Road, Rawalpindi has served as a rest house for kings and princes, an office and home for prime ministers of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) and even housed military courts.
|Balconies made out of walnut wood, in traditional Kashmiri style, overlook the main hall. The upper galleries allowed women a view of the performances in the hall below.|
It was built by Raja Moti Singh, the ruler of Poonch, to serve as a rest house for Rajas of Poonch. Later, in 1914 when Poonch became a part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, the Poonch House became the property of the ruler of Kashmir Maharaja Gulab Singh. After Pakistan came into being, in the 1950s it was the home of AJK’s first prime minister and camp office of AJK president and prime minister.
|Windows and skylights built into the wooden ceiling to light the narrow passage below without electricity.|
“When General Ziaul Haq imposed martial law in 1977, military courts were set up at Poonch House where prominent politicians and political workers were tried,” said former district nazim Raja Tariq Kayani.
The majestic mansion combined the best in European and Indian architecture. It incorporated intricate Kashmiri woodwork with fine masonry.
|The outer wall of the women’s chamber. The door leads to the narrow passage which connects the two parts of the building.|
The complex included separate living quarters and courtyards for men and women. The main hall was where the Maharajas held court or hosted grand parties.
The walls were embellished with intricate artwork and beautifully carved wooden balconies. The Maharaja’s own chambers were located on the upper storey along with small rooms for his servants.
|A stylised arched window with broken glass panes represents the dilapidated condition of Poonch House today. This was once part of the men’s chamber.|
Once the grounds of Poonch House spread over 37 kanals, but today the area has been reduced to 23 kanals.
In 1983, a 10-storey building was constructed in the lawn of Poonch House and bits of land were sold by the government until Prime Minister Junejo in 1986, imposed a ban on sale of Poonch House land.
|A recently renovated room, with whitewashed walls, is being used as the office of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Properties administrator. This area once served as the durbar of the Maharaja of Kashmir.|
The colourful history and past grandeur of this old building are fast fading. The derelict old building is serving as the Sub-office of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Properties and Azad Jammu and Kashmir Election Commission office.
The main hall where music echoed late into the night, now houses offices where telephone bells ring instead. Whitewash covers the artwork on the walls and cement has been filled in where decorative tiles are missing.
|This section of Poonch House, which today serves as AJK Election Commission Office, once housed the military courts set up by Ziaul Haq. Here a number of politicians and political workers were tried.|
Masroor Ahmed, administrator AJK Properties Sub-office, told Dawn that Rs0.5 million have been allocated by the government for restoration of the exterior of Poonch House and work will begin at the end of the month.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2015